Dressed to impress in his brightest yellow suit, Raphael Saadiq enters the stage in character, a Black Dick Tracey or Jim Carey in The Mask, but with a seductive voice as well as all the right moves. From start to finish, everything about this show was smooth and slick and for the most part very 60s.
The suits, the choreography, the full band complete with sax and trumpet and the two backing singers, one guy and one girl, who looked extra cool in their black suits with white shirts and black ties. They came out jumping and jiving with smiles and energy as big as the venue.
Visually impressive but musically and vocally not so exciting for the first three songs which served more as an introduction to this new Motown persona and almost pleaded to the audience "go with us on this". By the time we reached the fourth song, Lucy Pearl joint 'Dance Tonight' the crowd showed their appreciation and whooped for joy at the sound of something more familiar. Shepherds Bush Empire was rammed with people of all ages and races, some will have only known Saadiq from Lucy Pearl, many may have followed his career all the way back to Toni Tony Tone and some may have just come along with a friend in one of those categories of the Raphael Saadiq fan club.
As the female backing singer stepped to the front and into Dawn Robinson's shoes for the Lucy Pearl numbers which included ‘LaLa’ and ‘Don't Mess With My Man’, Saadiq loosened his tie, took off his yellow jacket and sunglasses (which he probably only needed because of the brightness of that jacket) and reclaimed his stage and audience with ‘Be Here’ from his ‘Instant Vintage’ solo release which directly followed the Lucy Pearl album. Saadiq doesn't need to prove anything to anyone but he seems to be trying to prove something to himself. "This place is crowded, don't know about you, but I need some sex, some sex with you…", begins 'Let's Take A Walk' from the ‘Cadillac Records’ movie soundtrack. This is the song where it all seemed to be coming together and one of my two highlights of the show for sheer entertainment value, Saadiq gyrating his hips and then asking the men at the front of the audience to let some more women come forward and I quote, "I didn't come all the way to London England to see a whole bunch of dudes in the front row".
Saadiq fancies himself as a bit of a sex symbol and a showman but I honestly think a few nights in the Jazz Cafe would be a much more fulfilling experience than packing out Shepherds Bush Empire for one night only. If he did something more intimate and less self-indulgent in a smaller venue, perhaps his ego may not balloon like it did all the way to the upper levels of the auditorium. When noticing the audience members up top had remained seated he held up the show until he was satisfied enough of them were on their feet, at which point he asked us, "Do you love me tonight?" and broke into a hand-clapping, foot-stomping rendition of 'Sure Hope You Mean It' from his most recent record ‘The Way I See It’ and for a second I actually felt I came as close as I ever would to seeing the legendary Sam Cooke performing live in the flesh. In general the band didn't have much of a ‘wow factor’ and Saadiq didn't seem to have any kind of genuine rapport with them, however, on this particular song the band shone as much as the main man himself and the audience were loving it for the whole 10 minutes it went on for, it was a real show stopper!
Some will say Saadiq is trying to be something he is not and admittedly that level of showmanship doesn't come naturally to everyone and he hasn’t quite mastered it yet even after all these years. I would say, from listening through his back catalogue, Saadiq has actually come full circle from the days of Toni Tony Tone but with an added Motown twist and an extra, and sometimes unnecessary, glossy finish.
By: Dean Atta